Stress and modern life
Some stress in small and manageable quantities can be beneficial, as we rise to the challenge of a new job, or work towards a goal. However, as the pace of everyday life increases, we often experience struggle: paying the mortgage, meeting deadlines, organising family and colleague commitments. We can become oblivious to warning signs from our bodies and subconscious minds, and also to the emotional needs of friends and family. The wider meanings of life can be lost, as increasing di-stress leads to anxiety, frustration, feelings of failure, and a feeling that life is being driven by events beyond our control.
Fight and flight
The ‘fight and flight’ stress response is an ancient physiological reaction to a perceived threat or challenge, such as the sighting of a potential prey or predator. Pupils dilate, heartbeat increases, adrenaline is secreted, the bronchi of the lungs dilate, muscle strength is increased, gastric movement decreases. The system is primed for physical exertion, and energy is diverted from non-urgent tasks such as digesting food.
The exertion will typically be short-lived, the crisis or challenge will pass, and the system will eventually switch to the ‘rest, relax and recuperate’ state. Pupils will contract, heartbeat will reduce, respiration slow down, the digestive processes once more function with ease.
It is easy to see how such a system suited our hunter-gatherer ancestors. In modern life, however, we are constantly exposed to challenges that do not lead to a burst of physical activity, and that do not diminish in a short time.
Stresses such as living with the threat of impending redundancy, or waiting for the results of medical tests, may continue for weeks or months without respite. The perceived threat to the mind-body system of a disagreement in the board room or in the home does not lead naturally to running away or fighting – at least not in any socially acceptable way – so we are left to simmer. The advice to ‘go for a brisk walk to calm you down’ in these situations therefore has some biological wisdom behind it.
Our human grasp of language and logic gives us the ability to predict threats which are quite abstract, to imagine the outcome of those predictions, and to react to our imaginings as if they were real. A pet cat or dog awaiting the result of a critical X-ray or blood test has none of the anticipatory fear that a human in the same situation would experience. In this sense, we, as humans, are the victims of our own ability to imagine and to think.
Hence the need for a tool such as AT, which enables us to move into a ‘rest, relax and recuperate’ state at will. We instigate our own recovery processes, at will, using AT.
Outcomes of AT
Physiological tests support reports of reduced stress by users of AT, with measured drops in blood pressure and cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’).